David Brooks writes today that John McCain, the maverick campaigner who used to mock and deride the Republican and Rovian tactics to win an election, has now adopted those methods and it’s working…for now.
The man who lampooned the Message of the Week is now relentlessly on message (as observers of his fine performance at Saddleback Church can attest). The man who hopes to inspire a new generation of Americans now attacks Obama daily. It is the only way he can get the networks to pay attention.
Some old McCain hands are dismayed. John Weaver, the former staff member who helped run the old McCain operation, argues that this campaign does not do justice to the man. The current advisers say they have no choice. They didn’t choose the circumstances of this race. Their job is to cope with them.
And the inescapable fact is: It is working. Everyone said McCain would be down by double digits at this point. He’s nearly even. Everyone said he’d be vastly outspent. That hasn’t happened. A long-shot candidacy now seems entirely plausible.
The “circumstances of the race” are that John McCain and the Republicans know that they can’t win any other way. They can’t run on the Republican record of the past eight years, and they have to act as if George W. Bush never existed. That also means they can’t talk about any new ideas for the country because, well, they don’t have any. Everything they’ve trotted out is a warmed-over policy that either the Bush administration trotted out or it’s a steal from the Democrats and repackaged with their name on it. And the GOP knows they can’t win by taking the high road either; when was the last time it worked for them?
The plan is simple. John McCain will always say that he wants to run his lofty campaign of ideas and let the rest of the campaign do their slash-and-burn. Whenever someone accuses them of running a negative campaign or calls into question the veracity of their ads or puff-pieces or tales of heroism that might possibly have been plagiarized from a Nobel-prize-winning novelist, they go over the top with their outrage and claims of bias. It’s the old wounded-bully trick, and it usually works. The fact that John McCain is letting it happen is a true testimony to the kind of man he really is and the kind of character he brings to the race. In other words, he’s no different than George W. Bush in trying to win an election. So much for distancing himself from the last eight years.
What isn’t really surprising about this is that Mr. Brooks doesn’t seem surprised by this and tacitly approves of it. Oh, he may shake his head and act all disappointed that his party is getting back into the gutter, but in reality, he’ll take whatever they do as long as he thinks it will win. Yet again another case of someone whose standards are limited only to the degree that it doesn’t matter what it takes to win as long as they can get away with it.